When it’s time to hit the water for some bass fishing, my prep time includes many decisions including choosing the best color lure for bass given the conditions which can sometimes feel overwhelming. So, I decided to put together a quick guide to summarize the most important factors for choosing bass bait colors.
In general, the best color for bass fishing depends on water clarity and cloud cover. In clear water or sunny conditions, the best colors are ones that seem more natural whereas dark water or cloudy conditions call for darker colors that create contrast underwater and are more visible to bass.
Lure and bait selection can be a daunting task. Add in color to the mix and it’s enough to make you a bit crazy at times. Choosing the WRONG color could significantly hurt your chances of catching fish. Take the stress away by following these simple steps for choosing the right color.
Do Bass Actually See Color? @Science
Visit your local tackle store or browse online and you’ll, no doubt, find an overwhelming number of colors, most of which are “special” colors or combinations of colors. Where does one even begin to make sense of it all and how relevant is color for bass fishing?
Bass do see color as shown in two separate scientific studies performed almost a century apart. In a 2019 published study, through extensive research, Oxford Academic (Current Zoology), concluded that bass have “dichromatic vision” and are able to distinguish colors.
What Colors Do Bass See Best? This Changes Everything.
Two different research papers seem to support each other’s contention that bass do see color and that bass see certain colors better than others.
The two studies that I have reviewed and studied are:
- “Seeing red: color vision in the largemouth bass” (Current Zoology, Volume 65, Issue 1, February 2019, Pages 43–52, )
- “Responses of the Large-mouth Black Bass to Colors” (F.A. Brown. Division of the Natural History Survey. Volume 21. 1937 Bulletin. Article 2)
Several key takeaways can be inferred from the research projects.
- Bass do not seem to be able to adequately distinguish between white and colors like chartreuse yellow.
- Bass also do not detect a major difference between blue and black.
- Bass CAN identify red and green and see them as distinct colors. They understand that red and green are different from other colors.
- It seems that red is the color that bass most readily respond to.
- Bass had the hardest time responding to green and blue.
- Blue, dark gray and black were not necessarily perceived as distinguishable by bass
- Humans can understand bass vision by imagining (or actually using) a yellow filter. If we, as people, were to wear a yellow glasses lens, our color differentiation would be similar to that of a bass. In other words, bass appear to see through a yellow filter which directly affects their interpretation of color.
As anglers, we may have a difficult time wrapping our heads around these kinds of scientific studies. We all possess significant personal experience with colors that we feel work better for bass fishing than others.
Professional bass fisherman, guides, and other seasoned veterans also provide their own extensive anecdotal “evidence” to support their many contentions that largemouth bass do recognize many colors.
Anglers and, certainly, bait and lure companies would have us believe that color intricacies such as black worms with blue tails or spinnerbaits with white and chartreuse skirts do catch more bass than plain black worms or plain white skirts contrary to the findings of the research and studies.
My opinion is that personal experience does matter and that bass may react differently in their natural habitat versus their reaction in a controlled scientific environment. I’m certainly not a scientist, but logic and experience provide some good evidence that conditions in nature likely have an effect on bass that is different than ones that can (or can’t) be created in a controlled scientific study environment.
My assumption is that it would be very difficult, if not impossible to conduct a thorough and accurate study in raw nature to decide conclusively whether or not bass prefer certain colors. There are simply too many variables to be considered in the wild (water color, wind, current, sun, clouds, temperature, season, etc.).
Nonetheless, science and credible research should be taken into serious consideration when choosing the best color to attract bass.
My takeaway from this research is to stress a bit less about specific color nuances and STOP second-guessing my color choices while confidently fishing with a basic color that makes sense for the situation at hand (see below for more information on color selection).
What Color Bait Works Best for Bass? 3 Key Factors
It has been established that bass do see color with certain limitations. The question remains: what color bait works best for bass? There are several key components to consider when deciding on color.
#1 Light Penetration Affects Color Choice for Bass Baits
Water clarity and the amount of sunlight have similar effects on color choices for soft plastic baits. When choosing the best color for a Senko, worm, or other soft plastic, light penetration and visibility must be considered. Choosing the best lure for cloudy days is similar to the thought process involved in color decisions related to clear water. Clear water and sunny conditions mean more light penetration and better visibility whereas darker water and more clouds mean less light penetration and decreased visibility.
Soft Plastic Color for Bass in Clear Water and or Bright, Sunny Conditions
- When water is clear, natural colors tend to work better for bass fishing. Brighter, more, “obnoxious” colors are less likely to elicit a bite. Sensing that something’s just not right with the picture, bass may shy away from your bait or lure if the color is too bright for clear water. Visibility is high because there is greater light penetration so natural colors work better.
- Green pumpkin, watermelon, and other light or moderately translucent colors are better options for clear water especially when your bait choice is a plastic worm or other soft plastic bait.
Soft Plastic Color for Bass in Murky Water or Overcast Conditions
- Darker soft plastic colors work well in dim light settings because of the contrast that is created by the bait in the water. Visibility is low because of poor light penetration.
- For soft plastics, try a black or other dark color (remember that bass may not distinguish well between blues and blacks so choose wisely). Bass do like black and blue worms, but since they may not be able to distinguish the two colors, they are likely responding to a difference in contrast rather than a specific color. Darker colored soft plastics show up as silhouettes or shadows better for bass to see in low light settings
|Cloudy Day Bait and Lures||Sunny Day Bait and Lures|
|Clear Water Bait and Lures||Moderate light penetration. Medium visibility. Try using brown pumpkin, motor oils, and other middle of the road colors.||High light penetration and visibility. Use more natural colors like green pumpkin, watermelon seed or other light colors.|
|Dark or Murky Water Bait and Lures||Darker colors due to poor light penetration and low visibility. Darker colors like black or blue work best to create contrast.||Similar to cloudy/clear. Try using brown pumpkin, motor oils, and other middle of the road colors.|
#2 Match the hatch When Choosing Hard Lure Colors
When I’m fishing, I pay special attention to any surface activity or other indications about what bait the bass are eating when I’m on the lake. If I can decide by observation or know from past experience what the current target prey is for bass, I am absolutely going to throw baits and lures that are as close to that color as possible. If, for example, I know that they’re chasing bluegill, I am going to tie on a bait that closely resembles bluegill.
In general, matching the hatch means using something like a shad, shiner, bluegill, or crawfish color. Hard lure colors should match prey that bass are looking for in the area. Choose lures that mimic baitfish. Try natural colors that imitate shad, bluegill, shiners, or any other prevailing baitfish or prey including crawfish.
Again, in clear water, more natural hard bait colors are in order. You don’t see many fluorescent baitfish, but using something bright may be in order in murky water.
#3 Special Situations take Priority over Clarity and Cloud Cover
When trying to decide on what colors largemouth bass see best, special situations take priority over water clarity and cloud cover. For example, if there is an obvious shad spawn, then you are clearly going to match the hatch regardless of the sun and/or water clarity.
What Color Lure to Catch Bass During the Shad Spawn
During a very special time of the year, bass anglers get a bit “giddy” about getting up early to hit the lake in anticipation of the annual shad spawn and pending bass feeding frenzy.
Color selection is important so that the lure mimics the prey. Whites, chromes and “shad” colored baits are the most ideal colors to use in this dynamic season of predator eats prey. Spinnerbaits and swim jigs are prime candidates for white skirts and trailers while hard baits do well with chrome/silver tints and/or shad imitating paint jobs.
Best Color Baits For Spawning Bass.
Bass on beds present a unique scenario with special challenges and opportunities for bass fishermen. For the most part, decisions on bait color for spawning bass follow the same logic as the decision-making process used to decide what colors attract largemouth bass under normal bass fishing situations. Water clarity and sun conditions are the dominant factors that affect color choice.
Insider Tip I have seen a different tactic used effectively as well. I often use white or pink soft plastic when fishing for spawning bass. The brighter color works especially well in darker water allowing me to see where the bait is on the bed in relation to the waiting bass. Being able to see the bait helps me to be able to maneuver the bait to bring it closer to certain parts of the bed or close to the target bass.
Choose the Right Color for Bass Fishing At night
Bass fishing at night is akin to fishing in dark, murky water. Since light penetration is low, visibility is decreased. Contrast becomes important again. Darker colors like black or blue fit the bill.
What Color is Best for Topwater Bass Fishing?
Shiny object syndrome can be a huge problem for those of us who browse online or at tackle stores. There are so many “pretty” lure choices. Topwater baits come in an enormous variety of colors, but what really matters to a fish is the underside of the bait … after all, that’s all the bass can see. Bass are looking up at a topwater bait and see hard lure bellies — that’s it. The paint on the tops of lures is, for the most part, done for us humans.
So, How Do You Pick a Topwater Color for Bass Fishing?
The general rule of thumb, again, relates to conditions, light penetration and visibility. When light is low, like in the early morning hours or at dusk or during cloudy conditions, darker lures may be in order because contrast is king.
When conditions allow for more light penetration resulting in better visibility, lighter more natural colors are a better choice.
One final note on color. A significant amount of research has been done on colors. Research has consistently concluded that bass identify red differently than other colors.
Using red as part of your strategy is worth serious consideration. The following are a few ideas on how to creatively incorporate red into your strategy:
- Dye the tail or appendages of soft plastics red.
- Dab a little red paint on hard lures.
- Use red treble hooks on lures.
- Include red streaks in skirts on spinnerbaits.
- Pink worms do work for bass. They may work well in stained water, for bedding fish and also for ultra-clear water for smallmouth bass.
There is a myriad of other ways to include red in your bait and lure plans. It’s evident that red is important to bass vision so be creative and experiment a bit to see if using more red pays off.
Keep it fairly simple when contemplating lure and bait colors for bass. Carry a few of your favorite colors geared for different light scenarios and clarity and forget the rest. Time to go SEE how color can help you catch more bass!